Israel's former AG forced offstage after wrangling with Olmert's attorneys
Menachem Mazuz criticizes media coverage of recent Olmert corruption verdict, leading the former PM's lawyers to walk off the stage.
A joint appearance by former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's attorneys ended in quite a spectacle Tuesday, when Mazuz was forced off the stage at an Israel Bar Association conference.
Mazuz was at the conference, organized by the association's central district, with the intention of giving his first public response to the acquittal of Olmert last month, on corruption charges in the so-called Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs, and to his conviction on breach of trust charges in the Investments Center affair.
Appearing on a panel devoted to government corruption, Mazuz stridently criticized media coverage of the Olmert verdicts, saying that they constituted "a new pinnacle in disinformation." Mazuz was also unsparing in his criticism of the verdicts, particularly with regard to adjudication of the Talansky case, in which Olmert was accused of illegally receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I'm not an objective observer in the affair," Mazuz admitted at the start of his remarks. "I led the handling and decision-making in these affairs, up to the time indictments were filed. I have responsibility for the decisions which were reached, and I stand by these decisions, which were correct and required by the evidence.
"I do not represent the state judicial system today, I am a private citizen and so my opinions are entirely my own. We have become accustomed to hearing imprecise reports and media spin relating to public events. The orchestrated outburst which transpired when the verdicts were announced in the Olmert cases constituted a new pinnacle of disinformation. The verdict is 750 pages in length; very few members of the public have read it."
In response to Mazuz's statements, Olmert attorneys Navot Telzur and Navit Negev-Ram walked away from the panel discussion in which they were supposed to take part. They claimed that public discussion of a verdict in the Investments Center case is forbidden, since Olmert still awaits sentencing in that case.
"We are supposed to take part in a sentencing hearing in another few days," explained Telzur before he left the stage. "As attorneys, we are not at liberty to discuss this case, and we aren't willing to hear it discussed. The propriety of the legal process must be respected." Olmert is due to be sentenced on September 5.
Mazuz replied that had Olmert been convicted in the various affairs, his attorneys would have been happy to take part in such a discussion. "I announced in advance that I intend to discuss these cases," he said.
In addition to the two Olmert attorneys, other lawyers also left the auditorium as Mazuz proceeded with his statements.
Soon, calls for him to leave the stage mounted; he complied. But before stepping off the stage and walking out of the auditorium, Mazuz attacked what he described as erroneous information that circulated in the media after the delivery of the Olmert verdicts.
In the Investments Center verdict, Mazuz said, Olmert was found guilty of governmental corruption. "This is not a technical offense, nor is it a conviction for a one-time breach; instead, it applies to a series of acts undertaken over an extended period."
While Mazuz refrained from leveling direct criticism of the verdicts, he did note that despite Olmert's acquittal in the Rishon Tours and Talansky cases, his name "was not at all cleared, in contrast to what the media reported."
In the Rishon Tours case, Mazuz said, Olmert was acquitted only because the evidence left a measure of doubt. "The district court found that there was fraud, and that money was taken inappropriately. The judges convicted [Olmert aide] Shula Zaken, but not Olmert, though they found that his accounts were not bereft of problems, and that there is evidence that incriminates him."